The God of Abraham, Yitzhak, and Yonatan: Goshen-Gottstein on Heschel, Greenberg, and Sacks

Abstract

Korn reviews Alon Goshen-Gottstein’s analyses of the theories of religious pluralism of Rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel, Irving Greenberg and Jonathan Sacks in Goshen-Gottstein’s program of constructing a coherent Jewish theology of religion. Among the questions that Goshen-Gottstein asks are: (1) How much does each thinker believe that other religions contain divine truth? (2) How does each thinker know this? (3) What is the difference between religious pluralism and relativism? (4) How much of this pluralism can be based on Jewish law (halachah)? (5) How is religious truth validated? Goshen-Gottstein exposes the differences between these modern pluralists. Korn’s review of Goshen Gottstein also probes what the legitimate limits of Jewish religious pluralism are and whether the traditional concept of idolatry is relevant today.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    Heschel’s actual statement was: “It is the will of God that there be many religions.” The NBC interview can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEXK9xcRCho. Accessed on 10 May 2020.

  2. 2.

    I use the masculine pronoun when referring to God only as a necessary linguistic device, without imputing any gender to the God of Israel. In Jewish thought God has no gender but is metaphorically referenced as having both masculine traits (authority, royalty, power) and feminine traits (compassion, forgiveness, maternal instincts). In Jewish eschatology these contradictory traits will merge seamlessly into a unity in God. In other words, both sets of traits are equally divine, and equally non-divine. When no felicitous alternative exists, I similarly resort to using the masculine pronoun to denote the human being—both male and female.

  3. 3.

    The other prominent twentieth century Jewish pluralist theologian is David Hartman.

  4. 4.

    Heschel was not taken seriously by Orthodoxy largely because of his institutional affiliation at Jewish Theological Seminary of the Conservative movement and because he rarely engaged in the details of halachah, which has been the trademark of Orthodox discourse in the last 200 years. In addition, his participation with officials of the Roman Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s further widened the gap with Orthodoxy, since the official Orthodox policy was to shun participation in the Council.

  5. 5.

    Greenberg himself describes his marginalization in his essay “Modern Orthodoxy and the Road Not Taken: A Retrospective View” (2019). For Orthodoxy’s rejection of Greenberg’s views, see Ferziger (2019). The forced revision of Saks’ book is analyzed by Goshen-Gottstein and later in this essay.

  6. 6.

    See “Notes on a Friendship: Abraham Joshua Heschel and Reinhold Niebuhr” by Niebuhr’s wife (2017).

  7. 7.

    Kabbalistic philosophy is popular in Chasidic theology and education, and the assumption that Jews and gentiles have different essences or “souls” is widespread in this literature.

  8. 8.

    See, for example, Heschel’s most influential essay on interfaith, “No Religion Is an Island” (1996).

  9. 9.

    Interestingly, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the prominent Orthodox philosopher and halachic decisor, also did not discuss the halachic category of avodah zarah when addressing the issue of dialogue with Christians in his major essay on the topic, “Confrontation” (1964).

  10. 10.

    See Greenberg’s collection of essays in For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The new encounter between Judaism and Christianity (2004a).

  11. 11.

    See footnote 5.

  12. 12.

    Soloveitchik thought it was not, seeing it as betrayal. Moreover, he assumed that the Catholic Church would not abandon its traditional supersessionist theological criteria in discussing Judaism at the Second Vatican Council, and this assumption was the primary basis for Soloveitchik’s objection to Jewish participation at the Council specifically and to interfaith theological dialogue in general (Korn 2005).

  13. 13.

    For the details of these rabbinic precedents, see Korn (2012).

  14. 14.

    On this point in Ha-Meiri’s thinking, see chapter 2 of Moshe Halbertal’s, Between Torah and Wisdom: Rabbi Menachem Ha-Meiri and the Maimonidean Halakhists in Provence (Hebrew) (2000).

  15. 15.

    See footnote 1.

  16. 16.

    Goshen-Gottstein has tried to do this in his treatment of Hinduism in Same God, Other god: Judaism, Hinduism, and the Problem of Idolatry (2016b).

References

  1. Ferziger, Adam S. 2019. “The road not taken” and “the one less traveled”: The Greenberg-Lichtenstein exchange and contemporary Orthodoxy. In Yitz Greenberg and modern Orthodoxy: The road not taken, ed. Adam S. Ferziger, Miri Freud-Kandel, and Steven Bayme, 254–289. Boston, MA: Academic Studies Press.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Goshen-Gottstein, Alon. 2007. No religion is an island: Following the trail blazer. Shofar 26 (1): 72–111.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Goshen-Gottstein, Alon. 2009. Heschel and interreligious dialogue: Formulating the questions. In Abraham Joshua Heschel: Philosophy, theology and interreligious dialogue, ed. Stanisław Krajewski and Adam Lipszyc, 161–167. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Goshen-Gottstein, Alon. 2014a. Arguing for/over the dignity of difference. Paper presented at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture’s consultation on Respect and Human Flourishing on November 20, 2013. Jerusalem, Israel: The Elijah Interfaith Institute. https://faith.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/Goshen-Gottstein.pdf. Accessed on 10 May 2020.

  5. Goshen-Gottstein, Alon (ed.). 2014b. The religious other: Hostility, hospitality, and the hope of human flourishing. Interreligious Reflections. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Goshen-Gottstein, Alon. 2015a. The Jewish encounter with Hinduism: Wisdom, spirituality, identity. Interreligious Studies in Theory and Practice. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

  7. Goshen-Gottstein, Alon (ed.). 2015b. Memory and hope: Forgiveness, healing, and interfaith relations. Interreligious Reflections. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Goshen-Gottstein, Alon (ed.). 2016a. The future of religious leadership: World religions in conversation. Interreligious Reflections. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Goshen-Gottstein, Alon. 2016b. Same God, other god: Judaism, Hinduism, and the problem of idolatry. Interreligious Studies in Theory and Practice. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

  10. Goshen-Gottstein, Alon. 2017. Religious genius: Appreciating inspiring individuals across traditions. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Goshen-Gottstein, Alon. 2018. Genius theologian, lonely theologian: Yitz Greenberg on Christianity. In A Torah giant: The intellectual legacy of Rabbi Dr. Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, ed. Shmuly Yanklowitz, 71-92. Jerusalem, Israel: Urim Publications.

  12. Goshen-Gottstein, Alon, ed. Forthcoming 2020. Judaism’s challenge: Election, divine love, and human enmity. Boston, MA: Academic Studies Press.

  13. Goshen-Gottstein, Alon, and Eugene Korn (eds.). 2012. Jewish theology and world religions. Oxford: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Greenberg, Irving. 2004a. For the sake of heaven and earth: The new encounter between Judaism and Christianity. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Greenberg, Irving. 2004b. Pluralism and partnership. In For the sake of heaven and earth: The new encounter between Judaism and Christianity, 198-212. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society.

  16. Greenberg, Irving. 2004c. Toward an organic model of the relationship. In For the sake of heaven and earth: The new encounter between Judaism and Christianity, 145-161. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society.

  17. Greenberg, Irving. 2019. Modern orthodoxy and the road not taken: A retrospective view. In Yitz Greenberg and modern Orthodoxy: The road not taken, ed. Adam S. Ferziger, Miri Freud-Kandel, and Steven Bayme, 7–54. Boston, MA: Academic Studies Press.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Halbertal, Moshe. 2000. Between Torah and wisdom: Rabbi Menachem Ha-Meiri and the Maimonidean halakhists in Provence. Jerusalem: The Hebrew University Magnes Press (Hebrew).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Hershcopf, Judith. 1966. The Church and the Jews: The struggle at Vatican Council II. In American Jewish year book 1965: A record of events and trends in American and world Jewish life, vol. 66, eds. Morris Fine, and Milton Himmelfarb, 99-136. New York, NY: The American Jewish Committee; Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society of America.

  20. Heschel, Abraham Joshua. 1962. Torah min ha-shamayim be-aspaḳlaryah shel ha-dorot [Hebrew]. London: Soncino Press.

  21. Heschel, Abraham Joshua. 1996. No religion is an island. In Moral grandeur and spiritual audacity, ed. Susannah Heschel, 235-250. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

  22. Korn, Eugene. 2005. The man of faith and interreligious dialogue: Revisiting “Confrontation.”. Modern Judaism 25 (3): 290–315.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Korn, Eugene. 2012. Rethinking christianity: Rabbinic positions and possibilities. In Jewish theology and world religions, eds. Alon Goshen-Gottstein, and Eugene Korn, 189-215. Oxford, UK, and Portland, OR: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization.

  24. Niebuhr, Ursula M. 2017. Notes on a friendship: Abraham Joshua Heschel and Reinhold Niebuhr. On being. https://onbeing.org/blog/ursula-niebuhr-notes-on-a-friendship-abraham-joshua-heschel-and-reinhold-niebuhr. Accessed 6 Jan 2020.

  25. Sacks, Jonathan. 2002. The dignity of difference: How to avoid the clash of civilizations. New York, NY: Continuum Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Sacks, Jonathan. 2015. Not in God’s name: Confronting religious violence. New York, NY: Schocken Books.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Soloveitchik, Joseph B. 1964. Confrontation. Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought 6 (2): 5–29.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Eugene Korn.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Korn, E. The God of Abraham, Yitzhak, and Yonatan: Goshen-Gottstein on Heschel, Greenberg, and Sacks. Cont Jewry (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12397-020-09325-3

Download citation

Keywords

  • Religious pluralism
  • Idolatry
  • Irving Greenberg
  • Jonathan Sacks
  • Abraham Joshua Heschel
  • Alon Goshen-Gottstein